A police helicopter hovers ominously overhead, building-mounted security cameras swivel and zoom to scan the area, and two police officers in a bulletproof-glass booth watch on as an armored truck packed with De Beers’ latest shipment of diamonds rolls into the exclusive Antwerp Diamond District.
Waving the truck through, one of the officers pushes a button to lower the heavy steel bollards blocking its path. As the truck moves inside the restricted zone, the bollards are immediately raised from the floor blocking any more vehicles from entering. Outside the Antwerp Diamond Centre, the truck grinds to a halt and armed guards form a perimeter around it, as boxes upon boxes of priceless gems are unloaded and taken inside.
The diamonds are hurried directly into safety-deposit boxes, which are locked with both a key and combination, and then placed in the high-security vault – an underground chamber fitted with motion, heat and light detectors and sealed with a three-tonne steel door that is rated to withstand 12 hours of continuous drilling.
As the door is slammed shut, its many rigorous security systems are activated. First, a combination wheel that requires four numbers from zero to 99 (leaving around 100 million possible combinations) is set; then a seismic alarm, triggered by any major vibrations, is activated; next, a magnetic field is armed, which triggers an alarm if the door is opened and can be deactivated only with a secret code; and finally, an almost metre-long key is used to turn the giant deadbolts of the lock. How ever you look at it, robbing the Antwerp Diamond Centre is impossible. At least that was the verdict of master thief, Italian Leonardo Notarbartolo, who, in 2001, was paid 100,000 euros by a jewellery collector he’d previously sold his loot to, simply to answer the question.
For this generous fee, Notarbartolo, who rented his own safety deposit box to store his ill-gotten gains in the building’s impregnable vault, compiled a surveillance package detailing the kind of challenges facing anyone who would be brave (or foolish) enough to attempt a break-in, and he came to the conclusion that – no matter how skillful – no thief would be able to slip in and out of the vault undetected.
Having reported back his findings and placed the cash securely in his safety deposit box, Notarbartolo assumed this to be the end of the matter, until some five months down the line, when he got a phone call from the collector, requesting a meeting at an abandoned warehouse outside of Antwerp. No stranger to dodgy deals in abandoned warehouses, and still feeling the financial benefits from his previous dealings with the collector, Notarbartolo agreed.
As he entered the dilapidated warehouse, Notarbartolo was greeted by the jeweller and introduced to three men who were standing in what appeared to be a bank vault. Walking around the vault, it soon became clear to the Italian that what he was standing in was, in fact, an exact replica of the Diamond Centre’s vault, with every detail precisely as he remembered from his reconnaissance mission. The jeweller then proceeded to talk Notarbartolo through exactly how he and his crew planned on breaking into the real Antwerp Diamond Centre Vault, and for every question, he had an ingenious solution. The vault lock with a million possible combinations? all they needed was a hidden camera and the resident lock-picking genius could do the rest. The heat, light and motion sensors? Easy to get around with a bit of women’s hair spray and basic school electronics knowledge. The giant key? A piece of cake to replicate for their old-hand key forger. Ocean’s Eleven had nothing on these guys.